Spotlight Series

Roots to Harvest

Access to fresh food can be difficult when you’re living in an urban area. Growing the food yourself can be even more challenging. Roots to Harvest is a group of underemployed youth growing food in Thunder Bay. Roots to Harvest believes that the ability to grow your own food is an indication of the health, resilience, and independence of an individual and a community.

Their slogan ‘Punks growing food’ stands for their employment opportunities for underemployed or inexperienced young people between the ages of 10 to 30, in Thunder Bay. Roots to Harvest is not just working with youth at risk, they’re empowering these ‘Punks’.

Since 2007, the group has worked all year round offering a variety of services, including food and education. Roots to Harvest sells vegetables, preserves, honey, and granola at markets nearly all year long. They also offer workshops and informational sessions for schools and members of the community. They offer workshops on urban beekeeping, urban gardening, and tours of urban farms. The colder months are spent working closely with schools.

« We are much different than how we first started. In the beginning, it was about food, now it’s about people and food is a tool. »

– Erin Beagle, Executive Director

Erin Beagle, the Executive Director, has been with Roots to Harvest since the very beginning. At first, it was just a program started from a three-year grant from the provincial government and designed by a couple of professors at the local University. « We are much different than how we first started. In the beginning, it was about food, now it’s about people and food is a tool. » Roots to Harvest used to be very focused on food security and food growth, now its more similar to a youth outreach program designed to help youth want to plant their roots in Thunder Bay.

While the organization itself is considered a charity, the programs selling the products are considered social enterprises. The ‘Punks’ are selling the fresh produce, preserves, granola, and honey for a profit to in turn help themselves and continue to help others like them. Erin explains that « This work isn’t about these young people becoming farmers, it’s about learning the skills that come with the work. » Through the skills learned growing food, the youth employed through Roots to Harvest are able to build skills that will help them grow and move toward their future endeavors. Communities benefit from its people being active and engaged, and Thunder Bay is certainly benefitting from Roots to Harvest.

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